What is a Mechanical Engineering Degree?

Students of mechanical engineering learn how to research, design, develop, and test mechanical and thermal devices, including tools, sensors, engines, and machines. These devices serve many industries, including the aerospace, medical, energy, and manufacturing sectors. In addition to coursework in engineering and design, degree programs in the field include classes in mathematics, natural sciences, and physical sciences.

Here is a summary of the core mechanical engineering courses:

Engineering Graphics
This course focuses on the methods of engineering graphics. Using both freehand sketching and computer aided drafting (CAD) technology, students learn how to present ideas in graphic form. Topics include dimensioning; views; sections; production standards; and tolerance, which in engineering is a range of how far a true measurement can range from what is intended.

Engineering Mathematics
This is generally an upper-level course. It covers aspects of linear algebra used in mechanical engineering. Students may use computers to solve equations.

Electrical and Mechanical Systems
This course looks at electronics and basic electrical circuits. Subject areas covered are semiconductor physics, bias circuits and active loads, frequency response, the physics of noise, and data converters. Students learn how to design analog integrated circuits using semiconductor transistors.

The fundamentals of thermodynamic properties, temperature, and systems is the focus of this course. Topics include statistical thermodynamics, internal energy, absolute temperature, entropy, enthalpy, and energy equations for flow.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering
For a large number of mechanical engineering jobs, a four-year bachelor’s degree is a sufficient level of education. Some example courses are:

  • Introduction to Engineering – how engineering principles are used to solve real-world problems
  • Product Manufacturing and Performance – applying engineering principles to product design and assembly
  • Metals Selection – analyzing, comparing, and selecting metals for various products
  • Heat Transfer – the fundamentals of heat conduction, convection, and radiation transfer; understanding heat transfer equations and using programming languages to analyze heat transfer

Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering
A two-year master’s degree program in mechanical engineering is generally aimed at students who want to specialize in a specific area of the field. Some specializations are robotics, biomedical, automotive, and aerospace. Example courses at this level are:

  • Product Definition – how to design and develop products, with knowledge of what users value, how the product supply chain works, and the product life cycle
  • Simulation Modeling and Experimentation – using graphic simulation computer programs; conducting simulation experiments; how simulation modeling can be applied to real-world projects
  • Patent law – patent laws and the relationship between engineering and patents; designing products that will not infringe on existing or pending patents; protecting patents throughout the design process; determining if a design can be patented
  • Engineering Project Management – strategies for managing engineering projects; budgets; risk assessment; supervising a project team

Doctoral Degree in Mechanical Engineering
The doctoral level degree in this field is focused on research and theory. Coursework covers advanced research and advanced mathematics. This degree can take between four and five years to complete. Graduates come away with a very in-depth understanding of classical mechanical concepts, as well as of the latest developments and techniques in the field. They tend to become college professors or industry researchers.

Degrees Similar to Mechanical Engineering

Aerospace Engineering
This field is dedicated to the design and development of aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles. Degree programs include the study of aerodynamics, orbits, launch, flight controls, and engines.

Engineering Physics
Students of engineering physics focus on learning how to use physics to solve practical problems. Whereas mechanical engineering is concerned with design, applied physics is concerned with using physics to solve an engineering problem. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the bridge between physics and engineering.

Biomedical Engineering
Simply stated, biomedical engineering uses engineering to solve health and medical problems. For example, a biomedical engineer might look for chemical signals in the body that warn of a particular disease or condition.

Civil Engineering
Graduates of civil engineering degree programs design large construction projects. In their work they are concerned with such things as how much weight a structure can support and the environmental issues presented by construction.

Electrical Engineering
Electrical engineering degree programs teach students how electricity works, how it is generated, and how it is used.

Industrial Engineering
Industrial engineering majors learn how to improve the way that industries and organizations, such as hospitals and factories, operate. They draw on their knowledge in math, science, business, and psychology to consider factors like materials, equipment, and people.

Robotics Technology
As its name implies, this field uses engineering principles to create and test robots to be used in various sectors. Coursework in the degree program covers robotics and robot design, testing, and repair.

Skills You'll Learn

Earning a degree in this field and becoming a mechanical engineer can lay the foundation for work in other sectors because of the wide range of transferrable skills that results from studying mechanical engineering:

  • Technical design skills
  • Capacity to work under pressure
  • Critical and analytical thinking / problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Verbal and written communication
  • Awareness of business and industry sectors
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Research
  • Math
  • Hand drawing and Computer-Aided Design (CAD)
  • Strategic planning and project management
  • Understanding of diagrams, and flow charts
  • Data analysis / statistics

What Can You Do with a Mechanical Engineering Degree?

In the aerospace industry, mechanical engineers design planes, missiles, rockets, and satellites. Their focus may be on achieving greater fuel efficiency and cutting emissions or improving aerodynamics and flight mechanics.

Automotive mechanical engineers design, develop, and test vehicles. They conduct lab tests for safety and performance and in the case of recalled vehicles they troubleshoot design or manufacturing flaws. In addition, they look to develop and advance technologies like solar panels and hydrogen cells.

Mechanical engineers who work in the biomedical field design devices, such as artificial internal organs, replacements for body parts, and machines for medical diagnosis, and robotic surgical assistants.

Mechanical engineers are very much involved in construction projects of every kind. They design heating, cooling, ventilation, gas main, elevator, and escalator systems.

In the manufacturing sector, mechanical engineers design the machines and ultra-tech equipment that produce the goods that the world relies on.

Power / Energy
Mechanical engineers deliver the energy that powers the world, by designing nuclear power plants, boilers, grid connections, solar storage cells, and hydroelectric batteries.

‘Process’ mechanical engineers improve how we do things. They evaluate mechanical processes and come up with ways to make them safer and more efficient. They apply their skills in many different industries, including water supply, oil and gas, food manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals.

Mechanical engineering is at the heart of railway operations. Engineers in this field are responsible for tracks, signals, tunnels, and control systems. Their work may include developing faster propulsion methods and coming up with solutions to handle growing passenger numbers.

Case Study

It may come as a surprise to many readers, but the reach of mechanical engineers even extends to the entertainment industry, where they design elaborate moving Broadway stages and exhilarating roller coasters.


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